“Knowledge Nightmares”: What would Gordon Ramsay do?


                                                                             © FOX Broadcasting Company

Denise and I got rid of our TV seven years ago. We had several blissful years of control over our lives. We dodged most of reality show mania. We missed the first two seasons of Lost. Best of all, we avoided advertising.

Then came Hulu.

Now we cannot stop watching Kitchen Nightmares.

A simple premise. Repeated.

Restaurant owners on the brink of shutting down call in star chef Gordon Ramsay to help them save their restaurants. They are between half a million to two million dollars in debt. Their restaurants are empty. They’ve tried promotions and gimmicks to no avail. They know they are failing. The restaurant owners, many of them chefs, have accepted that they need help and have asked for it.

There is only one problem: All of the restaurant owners think that the food is excellent. (Hint: It isn’t.)

The Kitchen Nightmares formula

I read Jason Fried’s new book last weekend. REWORK is excellent. Go buy it and read it. I’m a big fan of his blog, his software, and his first book, Getting Real. 

Turns out Jason has been watching Kitchen Nightmares as well. He has a short essay in REWORK about the formula Gordon Ramsay uses to turn around a restaurant. It goes something like this:

  1. Establish a vision. Most of the restaurants Chef Ramsay turns around are drifting without a clear identity, trying to be everything to everyone. In recent episodes he’s helped restaurants to position themselves as “healthy and fresh,” “family-style Italian,” and “from farm to table.”  
  2. Do less. Chef Ramsay cuts down the number of items on the menu by at least half. (This episode is an extreme and entertaining example.)
  3. Do it well. Most of the chefs on Kitchen Nightmares are using either frozen food or dated ingredients or both. Gordon pushes them towards fresh ingredients.
  4. Fix the decor. While fixing the food is first on the agenda, Chef Ramsay always overhauls the “look and feel” of the restaurant to align the decor with the vision and the new menu.
  5. Work as a team. Many of the chef-owners cannot delegate and bark at their staff. Chef Ramsay puts in a proper organizational system so that chefs and owners can leverage themselves and grow their team.

In REWORK, Jason Fried suggests that software companies should apply Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares formula to their products. He argues that most software is a meandering, bloated, feature-rich, mess of code.

Putting everything customers ask for in the product (on the menu) only spreads developers (chefs) thin as they try to support an ever expanding code base.  Software product managers need to look back to their visions and hold fast when it comes to making decisions about  adding new features to their products. Jason’s central thesis is that by doing less and doing it well, software companies will have happier customers.

What would Chef Ramsay say about your knowledge management strategy?

If you have been reading the Knowledge Architecture blog you probably know how this story is going to end. I’ve written recently about overly ambitious and bloated project history databases which try to capture everything and end up capturing nothing. At the end of the post I suggested the following:

  1. Create one source of truth by consolidating project history from multiple locations into one database.
  2. Keep your project history database simple by prioritizing fields which actually get used.
  3. Assign a librarian to each field you want maintained. You may well have different librarians for different types of fields. (For example, QA/QC tracking, project roles and responsibilities, location of the record copy of the half-size set, and project descriptions might be maintained by four separate librarians.) 

Going forward, you should only add fields into your project history database when you have a clear “use case” for how each field will get leveraged and assign a librarian to maintain it. 


Think about the Kitchen Nightmares formula above:

Establish a vision. Do less. Do it well. Fix the decor. Work as a team.

If Chef Ramsay came into your firm, what would he say about how you manage knowledge as he progressed through each of these five steps?

Feel free to share your answers in the comments or e-mail me directly.

I’ll be back after KA Connect 2010 with a five-part series on how architects and engineers can apply the Kitchen Nightmares formula to turn around their knowledge management efforts.

Posted: April 2nd, 2010 | Filed under: General | Tags: | 1 Comment »

One Comment on ““Knowledge Nightmares”: What would Gordon Ramsay do?”

  1. 1 Knowledge Architecture Blog » Blog Archive » Establishing a vision for knowledge management: Be like Gordon said at 6:53 pm on April 18th, 2010:

    […] couple of weeks ago I wrote about Chef Gordon Ramsay’s formula for turning around failing restaurants: Establish a vision. Do […]